Millers come out on top in penalty drama.......
Rotherham United are one step away from reaching Wembley in the Papa John’s Trophy following a nail-biting penalty victory over Cambridge United.
Both sides were faultless in the first 13 spot kicks of the shootout but Cambridge’s Adam May saw his sudden-death penalty saved by Viktor Johansson, and Rotherham advanced to the final four of the competition.
In regulation time, Wes Harding’s first senior goal put the Millers ahead early on and Paul Warne’s side squandered a host of first-half chances to double their advantage before Cambridge skipper Paul Digby made it all-square at the break.
The second half was a much more even affair, and with the game going the distance, Rotherham prevailed in the shootout, with May’s penalty the decisive one.
Warne reshuffled his pack for the last eight tie with just two starters named from the solitary goal victory over Cheltenham Town at the weekend.
Harding was retained in the Millers backline alongside Michael Ihiekwe, who took the skipper’s armband for the evening.
The likes of Kieran Sadlier and Joshua Kayode were looking to maintain their fine form in the earlier stages of the competition.
The Millers made the early running and they had the first sight of goal when Tolaji Bola delivered an inviting corner into the box, and Kayode cleverly worked a yard of space on his marker to meet his centre, but he could not control his header, as it ballooned over the bar.
U’s ‘keeper Dimitar Mitov had a stroke of luck when he spilled a left-wing cross, but his blushes were spared by the referee’s whistle before Harding became the first to see yellow, for scything down Harrison Dunk in full flow.
Minutes later, Bola injected pace into a Rotherham move to present Will Grigg, with the chance to strike from distance, but the Sunderland loanee blazed his long-range shot into the empty stand behind the goal.
The Millers were rewarded for their promising start, by breaking the deadlock with nine minutes on the clock.
The home side planted a ball forward and Grigg shrugged off a half-hearted challenge by a visiting defender to advance into the box, and the wily frontman showed his experience by pulling the ball back into the path of the on-rushing Harding, who made a sweet connection with his weaker left-foot and the ball drilled into the heart of Cambridge goal giving Mitov no chance.
Warne’s side continued to press and they were denied a second goal by some brave, last-ditch defending from the U’s in a move, which resembled a shooting gallery.
Kayode sneaked around the back of the Cambridge defence and Bola and Grigg were denied by some last-ditch blocks, before Sadlier was the next to take aim, but another visiting defender put his body on the line to keep the ball out, while Joe Mattock was the last to threaten with a low shot, which was turned behind for a corner.
The Millers were still on the front foot when another Bola corner caused havoc in the Cambridge backline, and his drilled centre appeared to hit Kayode, just yards out, but the ball looped just over the bar.
Mark Bonner’s men were second best, in the early stages, but they troubled the Millers for the first time when May exchanged a one-two with Sam Smith, to fire harmlessly wide from distance before Ben Worman hit a tame effort into the grateful hands of Johansson.
The U’s were growing in confidence and Liam Bennett cut inside Bola to fire a low effort which stung the palms of the Swedish stopper, before Worman flashed a shot wide, just past the half-hour mark.
The Millers may have regretted not adding a second goal when they were on top as Cambridge levelled matters with a slick counter-attack, just five minutes before the break.
There looked little danger for the hosts until May cut inside with menace and James Brophy was the grateful recipient to take the move forward, and his slide-rule pass paved the way for U’s skipper Paul Digby, to carefully stroke a lovely effort past the outstretched hand of Johansson, to find the bottom corner of the net.
The visitors were lifted by the equaliser and the Millers were indebted to skipper, Ihiekwe, for a superbly-timed tackle on the edge of the box to deny Sam Smith, who looked well set to make it two, soon after.
Half-time: Rotherham United 1 Cambridge United 1
Attacking the KCM Waste Management Stand, the Millers were quick out of the blocks at the start of the second half and Sadlier put in a tantalising corner which found the head of Kayode, but his downward header was straight down the throat of Mitov.
Warne’s side had faint appeals for a spot kick when Kayode tumbled under the challenge of George Williams in the box, but no further action was taken.
The Millers were knocking on the door and Bola’s cross was nodded down by Grigg and Kayode pounced to fire a snap shot which was bravely blocked at close quarters by Williams before Rarmani Edmonds-Green almost made a telling connection from Sadlier’s corner, but he could not direct his header goalwards.
With the tie in the balance, Warne made a quartet of changes with 25 minutes to go.
The Millers continued to hold the initiative and Jamie Lindsay’s long-range shot smacked against one of his colleague’s en-route to goal, and the ball was diverted behind.
The AESSEAL New York Stadium faithful had their hearts in their mouths when Dunk clipped a cross which saw Johansson race from his line to collect, but May beat him in the aerial duel, but despite the Millers goal being unguarded, his towering header rolled tantalisingly wide of the target.
In the dying minutes, sub Mickel Miller planted an inswinging corner towards goal which Mitov made a hash of, but the Bulgarian ‘keeper somehow managed to bundle the centre over his own bar.
In a carbon-copy seconds later, the Cambridge ‘keeper was again put under pressure from another Miller delivery and Rotherham runners, but a timely referee’s whistle released the heat on the U’s.
Fellow sub Chiedozie Ogbene had Rotherham’s last shot of note when he dragged a low effort wide, and the game was to be decided on spot kicks.
Both sides were faultless from 12 yards, as the shootout ebbed and flowed, until May’s effort was parried away by Johansson, and the Rotherham faithful celebrated a win, which sees them 90 minutes away from another appearance at the home of English football.
Full-time: Rotherham United 1 Cambridge United 1
Rotherham United 1
Cambridge United 1
Rotherham win 7-6 on penalties.
Teams: Rotherham- Johansson, Harding (Ogbene 65), Mattock, Sadlier (Wiles 65), Grigg (Ladapo 65), Bola (Miller 65), Lindsay, Kayode (Ferguson 86), Ihiekwe, Odoffin, Edmonds-Green. Unused- Vickers, MacDonald.
Cambridge- Mitov, Williams, Digby, Brophy, Smith, Dunk, Okedina, May, Knibbs, Worman, Bennett. Unused- Mannion, Gill, Dickens, Beckett, Yearn, McConnell, Akanbi.
Referee: M Coy
Attendance: 2239 (133)
Ferguson scored 1-0
Smith scored 1-1
Ladapo scored 2-1
Dunk scored 2-2
Miller scored 3-2
Brophy scored 3-3
Wiles scored 4-3
Williams scored 4-4
Mattock scored 5-4
Knibbs scored 5-5
Lindsay scored 6-5
Mitov scored 6-6
Ihiekwe scored 7-6
May saved 7-6